Cognitive Abilities in Bilinguals in L1 and L2

  • Andy V. Pham
  • Sara Castro-Olivo
  • Heejung Chun
  • Anisa N. Goforth
Part of the The Bilingual Mind and Brain Book Series book series (BMBBS)


The proportion of individuals who speak more than one language in the United States has significantly increased. Although there are apparent cultural benefits for children who are bilingual, providing instruction and proper evaluation of bilinguals’ cognitive abilities comes with significant challenges. These challenges are exacerbated by the limited research in this area and the known impact speaking two languages has on individuals’ cognitive abilities. In this chapter, the authors highlight the challenges of conducting cognitive assessments with bilinguals. The authors also propose a culturally and linguistically responsive framework for minimizing bias in the assessment of cognitive abilities of bilinguals. The proposed framework is composed of four steps that encourages practitioners to: (1) assess their client’s behavioral and linguistic acculturation; (2) assess their clients’ verbal language abilities in both languages; (3) determine potential issues with comparing their clients’ cognitive abilities with the normative samples of available tests; and (4) select most appropriate test given the client’s sociocultural/behavioral background, language abilities, and appropriateness of available tests. Implications for clinical practice are also discussed.


Bilingualism, L1 and L2 testing Culturally responsive assessment Cognitive assessment Diversity 


  1. American Educational Research Association. (2014). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: AERA.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from
  3. Ardila, A., Ostrosky-Solis, F., Rosselli, M., & Gómez, C. (2000). Age-related cognitive decline during normal aging: The complex effect of education. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 15, 495–513.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Arentoft, A., Byrd, D., Robbins, R., Monzones, J., Miranda, C., Rosario, A., et al. (2012). Multidimensional effects of acculturation on English-language neuropsychological test performance among HIV+ Caribbean Latinas/os. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 34, 814–825. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2012.683856 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Berry, J. W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 46, 5–6.Google Scholar
  6. Berry, J. W., Poortinga, Y. H., Segall, M. H., & Dasen, P. R. (2002). Cross-cultural psychology: Research and applications (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bialystok, E. (2010). Bilingualism. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 1, 559–572.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bialystok, E., & Craik, F. I. (2010). Cognitive and linguistic processing in the bilingual mind. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 19–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bracken, B. A., & McCallum, R. S. (2015). The Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.Google Scholar
  10. Charvat, J. (2008). Fluency and use of languages other than English among school psychologists: Data from the NASP membership survey. Retrieved from
  11. Costigan, C. L., & Dokis, D. P. (2006). Relations between parent–child acculturation differences and adjustment within immigrant Chinese families. Child Development, 77, 1252–1267.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism and special education: Issues in assessment pedagogy. San Diego: College-Hill.Google Scholar
  13. Cummins, J., & Swain, M. (1986). Bilingualism in education: Aspects of theory, research and practice. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  14. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, D. M. (2007). Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (4th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Pearson.Google Scholar
  15. Dunn, L. M., Lugo, D. E., Padilla, E. R., & Dunn, L. M. (1986). Test de Vocabulario en Imágenes Peabody. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  16. Elliot, C. D. (2007). Differential ability scales (2nd ed.). San Antonio, TX: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  17. Flanagan, D. P., Ortiz, S. O., & Alfonso, V. C. (2013). Essentials of cross-battery assessment (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  18. Garratt, L. C., & Kelly, T. P. (2007). To what extent does bilingualism affect children’s performance on the NEPSY? Child Neuropsychology, 14(1), 71–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Genesee, F. (1989). Early bilingual development: One language or two? Journal of Child Language, 16, 161–179.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Genesee, F., & Nicoladis, E. (2007). Bilingual acquisition. In E. Hoff & M. Shatz (Eds.), Handbook of language development (pp. 324–342). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  21. Goforth, A. N., Pham, A. V., & Oka, E. R. (2015). Parent–child conflict, acculturation gap, acculturative stress, and behavior problems in Arab American adolescents. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 46, 821–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hammill, D. D., Pearson, N. A., & Weiderholt, J. L. (2009). Comprehensive Test of Nonverbal Intelligence, Second Edition (CTONI-2). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.Google Scholar
  23. Hernandez, A., Li, P., & MacWhinney, B. (2005). The emergence of competing modules in bilingualism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 220–225. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2005.03.003 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Hoff, E., Core, C., Place, S., Rumiche, R., Señor, M., & Parra, M. (2011). Dual language exposure and early bilingual development. Journal of Child Language, 39, 1–27.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act § 1400 (2004).Google Scholar
  26. Jarvis, L. H., Danks, J. H., & Merriman, W. E. (1995). The effect of bilingualism on cognitive ability: A test of the level of bilingualism hypothesis. Applied PsychoLinguistics, 16(3), 293–308. doi: 10.1017/S0142716400007311 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Johnson, J. S., & Newport, E. L. (1989). Critical period effects in second language learning: The influence of maturational state on the acquisition of English as a second language. Cognitive Psychology, 21, 60–99.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Kalia, V., Wilbourn, M. P., & Ghio, K. (2014). Better early or late? Examining the influence of age of exposure and language proficiency on executive function in early and late bilinguals. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 26, 699–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kaufman, A. S., & Kaufman, N. L. (2004). Kaufman assessment battery for children (2nd ed.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  30. Karlsson, L. C., Soveri, A., Räsänen, P., Kärnä, A., Delatte, S., Lagerström, E., et al. (2015). Bilingualism and performance on two widely used developmental neuropsychological test batteries. PLoS One, 10(4), e0125867.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Kena, G., Musu-Gillette, L., Robinson, J., Wang, X., Rathbun, A., Zhang, J., et al. (2015). The condition of education 2015. NCES 2015–144. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
  32. Martin, N., & Brownell, R. (2010a). Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test, Fourth Edition (EOWPVT-IV). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.Google Scholar
  33. Martin, N., & Brownell, R. (2010b). Receptive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test, Fourth Edition (ROWPVT—IV). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.Google Scholar
  34. Martin, N., & Brownell, R. (2012a). Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test, Fourth Edition: Spanish (EOWPVT—IV). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.Google Scholar
  35. Martin, N., & Brownell, R. (2012b). Receptive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test, Fourth Edition: Spanish (EOWPVT—IV). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.Google Scholar
  36. Muñoz-Sandoval, A. F., Cummins, J., Alvarado, C. G., & Ruef, M. L. (2005). Bilingual verbal ability tests. Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.Google Scholar
  37. Naglieri, J. A., & Bornstein, B. T. (2003). Intelligence and achievement: Just how correlated are they? Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 21, 244–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Naglieri, J. A., Das, J. P., & Goldstein, S. (2014). Cognitive assessment system (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.Google Scholar
  39. Naglieri, J. A., Otero, T., DeLauder, B., & Matto, H. (2007). Bilingual Hispanic children’s performance on the English and Spanish versions of the cognitive assessment system. School Psychology Quarterly, 22(3), 432–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. National Center for Educational Statistics (2016). Children and youth with disabilities. Retrieved from
  41. Ochoa, S. H., & Ortiz, S. O. (2005). Language proficiency assessment: The foundation for psychoeducational assessment of second-language learners. In R. L. Rhodes, S. H. Ochoa, & S. O. Ortiz (Eds.), Assessing culturally and linguistically diverse students: A practical guide (pp. 137–152). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  42. Ortiz, S. O. (2011). Separating cultural and linguistic differences (CLD) from specific learning disability in the evaluation of diverse students: Difference or disorder. In D. P. Flanagan & V. C. Alfronso (Eds.), Essentials of specific learning disability identification (pp. 299–324). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  43. Ortiz, S. O., & Ochoa, S. H. (2005). Cognitive assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse individuals: An integrated approach. In R. Rhodes, S. H. Ochoa, & S. O. Ortiz (Eds.), Assessing culturally and linguistically diverse students: A practical guide (pp. 168–201). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  44. Paap, K. R., Johnson, H. A., & Sawi, O. (2015). Bilingual advantages in executive functioning either do not exist or are restricted to very specific and undetermined circumstances. Cortex, 69, 265–278.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. B. (2011). Dual language development and disorders: A handbook on bilingualism and second language learning (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H Brookes.Google Scholar
  46. Paradis, M. (2008). Bilingualism and neuropsychiatric disorders. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 21, 199–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pazos, H., & Nadkarni, L. (2010). Competency with linguistically diverse populations. In J. A. Erickson-Cornish, B. A. Schreier, L. I. Nadkarni, L. Henderson Metzger, & E. R. Rodolfa (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling competencies (pp. 153–194). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  48. Pham, A. V., Goforth, A., Oganes, M., Medina-Pekofsky, E., & Fine, J. G. (2016). Nondiscriminatory neuropsychological assessment of children with learning disabilities. In F. R. Ferraro (Ed.), Minority and cross-cultural aspects of neuropsychological assessment (2nd ed., pp. 359–378). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  49. Poplack, S. (1980). Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en espanol: Toward a typology of code-switching. Linguistics, 18, 581–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Reynolds, C. R., & Kamphaus, R. W. (2015). Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales (RIAS-2) Lutz. FL: Psychological Assessment Resource.Google Scholar
  51. Rhodes, R. L., Ochoa, S. H., & Ortiz, S. O. (2005). Assessing culturally and linguistically diverse students: A practical guide. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  52. Roid, G. H., Miller, L. J., Pomplun, M., & Koch, C. (2013). Leiter International Performance Scale (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  53. Rosselli, M., Ardila, A., Araujo, K., Weekes, V. A., Caracciolo, V., Padilla, M., et al. (2000). Verbal fluency and repetition skills in healthy older Spanish-English bilinguals. Applied Neuropsychology, 7, 17–24.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Salinas, C. M., Bordes-Edgar, V., & Puente, A. E. (2016). Barriers and practical approaches to neuropsychological assessment of Spanish speakers. In F. R. Ferraro (Ed.), Minority and cross-cultural aspects of neuropsychological assessment (2nd ed., pp. 229–258). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  55. Salvia, J., & Ysseldyke, J. E. (1991). Assessment in special education and remedial education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  56. Schrank, F. A., Mather, N., & McGrew, K. S. (2014). Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Oral Language. Rolling Meadows, IL: Riverside Publishing.Google Scholar
  57. Semel, E. M., Wiig, E. H., & Secord, W. (2006). Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF-4) Spanish. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  58. Shin, H. B., & Ortman, J. M. (2011). Language projections: 2010 to 2020.. Retrieved October 4, 2016, from
  59. Strutt, A. M., Burton, V. J., Resendiz, C. V., & Peery, S. (2016). Neurocognitive assessment of Hispanic individuals residing in the US: Current issues and potential solutions. In F. R. Ferraro (Ed.), Minority and cross-cultural aspects of neuropsychological assessment: Enduring and emerging trends (2nd ed., pp. 201–228). NY: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  60. Suzuki, L. A., & Valencia, R. R. (1997). Race-ethnicity and measured intelligence. American Psychologists, 52, 1103–1114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Telzer, E. H., Yuen, C., Gonzales, N., & Fuligni, A. J. (2016). Filling gaps in the acculturation gap-distress model: Heritage cultural maintenance and adjustment in Mexican–American families. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45, 1412–1425.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. U.S. Census Bureau. (2013). Language use in the United States: 2011. American community survey reports. Retrieved from
  63. Valdes, G., & Figueroa, R. A. (1994). Bilingualism and testing: A special case of bias. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  64. Wechsler, D. (2014). Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (5th ed.). Bloomington, MN: Pearson.Google Scholar
  65. Wechsler, D., & Naglieri, J. A. (2006). Wechsler Nonverbal Scale of Ability (WNV). San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Assessment.Google Scholar
  66. WIDA Consortium. (2012). 2012 Amplification of the English language development standards kindergarten–grade 12. Madison, WI: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.Google Scholar
  67. Woodcock, R. W., McGrew, K. S., & Mather, N. (2001). Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities and Tests of Achievement (3rd ed.). Itasca, IL: Riverside.Google Scholar
  68. Woodcock, R. W., Muñoz-Sandoval, A. F., Ruef, M. L., & Alvarado, C. G. (2005). Woodcock-Muñoz language survey–Revised. Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.Google Scholar
  69. Woodcock, R. W., Muñoz-Sandoval, A. F., McGrew, K. S., & Mather, N. (2007). Batería III Woodcock-Muñoz. Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.Google Scholar
  70. Yates, J., Ortiz, A., & Anderson, R. (1998). Issues of race, ethnicity, disability and culture. Enhancing Diversity: Educators with Disabilities, 21–37.Google Scholar
  71. Zimmerman, I. L., Steiner, V. G., & Pond, R. E. (2012). Preschool Language Scales (5th ed.). Bloomington, MN: Pearson.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andy V. Pham
    • 1
  • Sara Castro-Olivo
    • 2
  • Heejung Chun
    • 3
  • Anisa N. Goforth
    • 4
  1. 1.Florida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Texas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  3. 3.New Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  4. 4.University of MontanaMissoulaUSA

Personalised recommendations